Street Markets by Martina Selway, London Transport Poster, 1965

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One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and London is a hunting ground for the unlikely.

© London Transport Museum

…says the text on this poster, and I see a London of 1965 – in that slightly barking way in which we feel we know the decades before our own existence. Anyway, this London street is thronged with vehicles made of curves, in elephant greys or dirty creams; plate glass shop fronts with sans serif fonts (they’re olive green) mingle with Victorian stalwarts that brushed off the war; and in their lunch hour, a certain type of woman is collecting cakes for the office and something for her supper.

I’m thinking of the first librarian I knew. Her name was Mrs Peach, and Mrs Peach was nice. Like a lot of women when I was a child, she had hair not unlike the Queen, the slightly pointed practical NHS glasses, and a twin set. Her capability and efficiency was such that if a nuclear reactor happened to go into meltdown somewhere in this Hampshire village, then you felt that the rest of us could just carry on browsing the shelves for books about otters or the Tudors (blame Ladybird books). I imagine Mrs Peach would have it all in hand: she would simply glance over the top of her glasses, ask us to wait a moment, and slink out of her library (which was small, but as light and modernist as something from Farenheit 451) only to return moments later with order restored and library cards to deal as coolly as a casino host.

I like the poster because it’s such a perfect stylised take on a Victorian past, when it was still living memory. Even though it dates a couple of years before Julie Christie and Terence Stamp went Far From the Madding Crowd, the scarlet tunic is brilliantly evocative. The picture book jumble conjures whiskery tobacco, a sonorous stiff-upper-lipped ticking of the clock, the pot dog on the mantlepiece as a gentle shawl shuffles a game of cards and wonders if it’s time to start the tea.

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